Green Fund debate gets complicated
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

The process of making laws often is compared to making sausage: It can be an ugly, complicated process, and you might not want to know each step along the way.

But more than 100 people crammed into a House of Delegates hearing room yesterday to see the process live and in the flesh during a discussion of the proposed Green Fund.

"We're making sausage down here, and this is how it happens," Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, told the crowd, which included some people sitting on the floor and others spilling into the hallway.

As proposed, the bill would levy a fee on new development that has impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways and parking lots: $2 per square foot outside priority growth areas and 25 cents per square foot inside growth areas.

The money raised - an estimated $130 million a year - would go to agricultural and environmental programs designed to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

But the final bill could look quite different, Ms. McIntosh said.

After meeting with people interested in the bill, she said she's coming up with several changes: reducing the amount of the fee, adding more exceptions and creating provisions for builders to reduce or eliminate the fee through "green building" techniques.

But none of the details of the changes have been hashed out, she said.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert, said all the changes are resulting in "a significantly changed concept."

"I'm not sure what we have," he said.

Even without all the amendments firmed up, supporters and opponents spent nearly three hours debating the bill.

Richard Howard, a home builder from Edgewater, said it would be frustrating to have yet another environmental fee.

"This is another tax on me for the same thing," he said.

Representatives of several home-building, construction and industrial groups also opposed the bill. They warned that it would drive up the already-high cost of housing in the state.

But environmental and agricultural groups aligned squarely in favor of the bill, saying the money would help to meet bay cleanup goals.

"We don't really have a lot of time to waste on this," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins of the land-preservation group 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

The chances are good for some version of the bill to pass, as it has plenty of support in Annapolis.

In addition to two dozen co-sponsors, it has the backing of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis. And the O'Malley administration sent five cabinet secretaries to speak in favor of it.

Ms. McIntosh said the Environmental Matters Committee will set up a work group to finalize revisions to the bill.

Published March 08, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised March 2007)